Wildlife Matters with Jeremy Holtz
4:00 am
Fri August 22, 2014

To Bait or Not to Bait? And Other Bear Hunting Questions

Bear hunting isn’t for everyone.  But its increasing popularity means that for those who do it, the wait times are getting longer and longer...up to nine years in some regions of Wisconsin.  In today’s Wildlife Matters, DNR Wildlife Biologist Jeremy Holtz weighs his options heading into his first bear hunting season.  

Bear hunting and bear baiting is highly regulated in Wisconsin.
Bear hunting and bear baiting is highly regulated in Wisconsin.
Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/lazymonkey/348519518/

I moved back to Wisconsin eight years ago to work as a Wildlife Biologist for the Wisconsin DNR. I started putting in for bear hunting preference points soon afterwards. I didn’t even know if I wanted to go bear hunting; I had never gone before. However, I knew I had several years to decide what I wanted to do. At that time, it took seven preference points to get a bear license in Zone B, which covers much of northeast Wisconsin that lies east of U.S. Highway 51 and north of Wisconsin State Highway 64. Each year, I applied for one more preference point, but as time passed, the number of preference points necessary increased as well. It began to feel as if I would never catch it. Then last year someone pointed out that I probably had enough preference points to get a 2014 tag in Zone A, which lies west of Highway 51. That is what I decided to do, and I was successful.

I admit I find it a bit daunting. First, I had to decide what kind of hunting I want to do. Wisconsin allows two different methods for bear hunting; those hunting with the aid of dogs, and those hunting without the aid of dogs. The two hunting types rotate “first dibs” each year. This year, for example, those hunting without the aid of dogs, referred to as “sitters,” will have the opportunity to hunt first in September. Hound hunters will follow. Next year the hound hunters will go first. Since my 9 year old obese Chocolate Labrador Retriever is a far cry from a bear dog, I fall in the category of “other than the use of dogs.”

Whether you are hunting with or without the use of dogs, you can use bait to attract a bear. Hound hunters often use the bait to lure the bear to a location where they can then start their dogs in pursuit following the bear’s scent trail. Sitters hunt over the bait, waiting for a chance to shoot at a bear that comes to them. Either way, bait is frequently used, and extremely effective. Last year, for example, there were 3,917 bears harvested—of those, 3,149 were reported as harvested utilizing bait (either with or without dogs). I always thought it would be cool if I could just head out into the woods and try to hunt a bear without using bait. However, this is my first time trying it, and I am not confident in my ability to beat the odds. In all my years of working and playing in the woods, I have only come upon a small handful of bears. I decided to try hunting over bait, as long as I can avoid baits that I know are most harmful or fatal to bears and other animals—especially chocolate.

I have watched hunters prepare bear baits in the past. This is a big obligation of time and money compared to the other kinds of hunting I have done. There are a lot of regulations about placing bait. There are a number of illegal baits to avoid. You have to construct a bait container of natural materials, and put a weighted lid on it that is heavy enough to keep out deer but accessible to bears. The bait has to be set distances from roads and trails, too. I will be using pieces of hollowed-out tree trunk that will be buried in the ground. I will put less than ten gallons of bait inside, and check it to see if it is visited by bears, and refresh the bait as necessary. Then, in early September, I can start hunting over these baits and see if I can harvest a bear. I hope to have a fun and rewarding season, and I look forward to sharing more of my experiences this fall.